School bells are ringing, and kids are heading back to school—whether that's in class, online, a hybrid, or homeschool. If yours are heading back into the classroom, we have guidance on how to get them there safely.
Getting Your Child to School Safely
Recent CDC guidance changes make it easier for students, teachers, and parents to go back to school. Here's what you need to know:
- Quarantines are out. No one needs to quarantine after exposure, but masking for 10 days is recommended.
- Masks are still in—kind of. The CDC still recommends wearing a mask indoors in high-risk level communities. Most school districts across the US have dropped mask mandates.
- Testing and screening are mostly out. Test-to-stay guidance, which required students to test negative to avoid quarantine, is no longer required. Also out—regular testing to screen for COVID-19. Even some of the country's most cautious school districts in NYC and Chicago are dropping or drastically curbing in-school testing programs.
Safety tips for going to school
At some point, your child will be a pedestrian. Make sure they know the basics, even if they’re riding the bus or getting a ride from a caretaker.
Getting to school safely
1. Stick together
Stay with a group of kids whenever possible. It's easier for drivers to see a pack of kids than one by themselves.
2. Be visible
Walk on a sidewalk when one is available or walk facing traffic if there is no sidewalk. Wear bright-colored clothing to be more visible to cars.
3. Don’t do it alone
Children younger than nine years old should always cross the street with an adult. Make sure your child understands the safest place to cross is at a crosswalk, street corner, or intersection. Make sure they know to never jaywalk across the street.
4. Choose the safe route
Choose the safest way possible. Consider risky spots like train tracks and busy intersections.
5. Know where to go
Identify safe houses along your child’s walking route. Point out homes of family friends where they can stop for help in case of trouble. Make sure these are people who know your child considers their home a safe place to go. And make sure to choose people who are home during the times your child will be walking by.
6. Discuss stranger danger
Make sure your child knows how to respond to strangers they might encounter on their route. Read our guide for more tips on how to stay safe in your neighborhood.
7. Go over phone numbers they need to know
If your child carries a phone, teach them how to dial for emergency help. Numbers to include on speed dial are the local emergency dispatch, your phone number, relatives and friends numbers, and anyone else who could help your child in an emergency if the need arises.
If your child doesn't have a phone yet, check out our kid-friendly recommendations.
8. Prepare for all seasons
Teach your child about special seasonal hazards. When dealing with snow-clearing vehicles, make sure your child knows to stand back until the snowplow or vehicle has gone by. Make sure your child understands that it is never safe to cross or play on stormwater drains.
9. Be sure they aren’t overwhelmed
Check your child’s backpack weight to make sure they don’t strain their back or lose their balance.
10. Check in often
Ask your kids questions about their bus rides, walks, or rides to school (in addition to coursework or their friendships) so you can spot problems early.
Taking the bus
For years, the classic yellow school bus has been the safest way for kids to get to and from school.1 It's one of the most regulated vehicles on the road, and the iconic transports are designed with your child's safety in mind. But COVID-19 may make you second-guess sending your kids to school on a bus full of other students.
COVID-19 and buses
Viruses spread in poorly ventilated areas like school buses. The CDC and other experts recommend mask-wearing, adjusting bus schedules to increase social distancing, and regular disinfecting to decrease the risk of transmission.2,3 If your school district has made riding the bus an option for your child, you may ask a few questions before they board the bus this year:
- Do they have a fever, cough, or sore throat?
- Have they been exposed to anyone with COVID-19 symptoms?
- Can they wear a mask or shield?
- Can they socially distance on the bus?
- Is another mode of transportation an option? Could you drive them? Could you do a socially distanced, mask-wearing "walking bus" instead?
- Stay five steps from the road when waiting for the bus and to stay away from traffic.
- When the bus approaches, line up away from the road and wait until the bus comes to a complete stop to board.
- Once on the bus, don’t distract the bus driver. Stay in your seat, keep your voice low, and don’t rough-house.
- When you arrive at your stop, wait until the bus has come to a complete stop before getting up from their seat to exit.
- Take extra care when exiting the bus—go slow and keep an eye on the steps and ground.
- Stay in the sight of the bus driver and other drivers on the road before crossing the street, and keep an eye out for traffic.
If you live close to the school, walking gives kids a chance to get their wiggles out and get a few minutes of exercise every day. It can also be a great way for kids to learn important landmarks to help them find their way home. But it's not without its risks—in 17% of child-involved motor vehicle crashes, the child was walking.5
Kids can stay safe and enjoy their walks to and from school with a few safe practices:
- Walk on the sidewalk and face traffic.
- Cross the road only at designated crosswalks and intersections.
- Stop and look both ways before crossing the street, or wait for the crossing guard to give the signal.
- Check parked cars for drivers before crossing in front or behind them.
- Make eye contact with drivers before stepping in the street—make sure they see you.
- Wear bright-colored and easy-to-spot clothing.
- Put down the cell phone and keep an open eye on their surroundings to watch out for potential hazards.
Consider walking with your child to school for the first week or two to demonstrate how to obey traffic rules and to also show them the safest route to school, pointing out potential hazards on the way.
Riding a bicycle to school is quick and a fun form of exercise. It can give older kids a sense of independence and ownership over their own schedule. Whether they're just riding to school and back or stopping at swim practice or using public transportation, make sure they've got safety practices down before they ride off.
- Make helmets mandatory. Check that the helmet fits correctly and is approved for bicycle use.
- Teach kids how to ride on the road and follow traffic laws.
- If they ride in a group to school, teach them to ride in a single file.
- Teach them to always lock up their bike.
- Review bike safety rules regularly.
Driving to school
The roads are always congested right before school starts, so pay attention and slow down.
If you're dropping off your kids, keep a few things in mind at the drop-off zone:
- Learn the drop-off point and procedures for each school.
- Take extra care to obey all traffic laws and take care not to double-park, block crosswalks, or pass stopped vehicles.
- Be prepared to share the road with school buses. Remember to stop when the bus extends the stop sign arm, even if you’re going in the opposite direction.
- Keep your eyes and ears open and look out for distracted children running to board or exit the bus.
If your high-schooler is driving, make sure they know how to stay safe in the parking lot:
- Drive slowly.
- Keep an eye out for pedestrians walking between cars and sidewalks or exiting.
- Slow down when approaching crosswalks and building entrances.
- Watch out for cars backing out of parking spaces.
- Put the phone down and in lock position. Pick your music, text your friends, or map your location before you start the vehicle.
Related articles on SafeWise
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "School Bus Safety." Accessed August 18, 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control, "COVID-19 Employer Information for Bus Transit Operators." Accessed August 18, 2022.
- Stephanie Shafer, Education Week, "Getting Kids to School: Tackling the COVID-19 Transportation Problem," July 20, 2020. Accessed August 18, 2022.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Back to School Safety Tips." Accessed August 18, 2022.
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, "Fatality Facts 2018: Children." Accessed August 18, 2022.